Hoboken Councilwoman Fisher Goes To Court To Strike Down Ordinance “Weakening” City’s Campaign Finance Reform Law

BREAKING: FISHER SEEKS COURT ACTION TO STRIKE DOWN ORDINANCE WEAKENING HOBOKEN’S CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM LAWS

Fisher Says Hoboken Residents and Public Deprived of Their Rights to Procedural Due Process by Team Bhalla

Hoboken, NJ. – On Friday, January 28th, Tiffanie Fisher, a Hoboken resident and City Councilwoman, filed a complaint in Hudson County Superior Court against the City of Hoboken, seeking the Court’s action to strike down the recently passed ordinance that weakened Hoboken’s strict campaign finance reform laws.  Fisher says Hoboken residents and members of the public were deprived their right to procedural due process and to be heard before the vote was taken on December 15th.  The complaint alleges that the ordinance was substantially changed by its sponsors just an hour before the vote, without any notice given to the public or a public hearing on the amendments, violating state statute N.J.S.A. 40:49-2.  The subject ordinance encourages the return of big money back into Hoboken’s local elections by allowing unions to donate up to $7,200, significantly more than the $500 currently allowed and was sponsored by Councilwoman Emily Jabbour and Councilman Phil Cohen. 

Ms. Fisher provides the following statement:

“Weakening Hoboken’s campaign finance laws goes against the will of Hoboken’s citizenry,” said Fisher.  “On all issues before the City Council, Hoboken residents and members of the public have the right to be heard, and especially one of this importance which they were denied.” 

During the meeting, Fisher asked Hoboken’s Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia if the last-minute amendments to the ordinance not shared with the public were substantive enough to require a second vote and public hearing.  Mr. Aloia stated he would need more time to decide given the late changes, but did not attempt to stop the vote from taking place.  The vote originally failed 4-3-1, but Councilwoman Vanessa Falco in her last meeting before joining the Bhalla administration, reconsidered a few minutes later, and changed her vote from “abstain” to the deciding, fifth ‘yes’ vote. 

Fisher further states, “Hoboken’s Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia often determines during Council meetings whether proposed changes to an ordinance warrant a new public hearing in accordance with state law.  But this one time, on a change that the public vehemently opposes but Team Bhalla seemed desperate to get through, he punts and allows the vote.  It took several reminders and two weeks for him to confirm what was known that night:  the amendments were substantive enough to require a new public hearing.  And the cherry?  Mayor Bhalla signs the ordinance into law anyway after this determination and Aloia confirmed the law would be effective if left unchallenged.”   

The scope of the last-minute amendments were to change the effective date of the ordinance and tie it to the outcome of an active litigation.  Not only was this amendment substantive, but it also runs contrary to city’s position in that litigation of defending its campaign finance reform laws.  Mr. Aloia was also asked at the December 15th meeting if the amendments would impact the judge’s decision in that court case which he stated it was possible but did not stop the City Council from discussing the active litigation, nor the vote. 

Fisher notes “In Hoboken, different than most cities, the mayor has sole hiring and firing authority of the Corporation Counsel, which I have long believed deprives the City Council of fair representation and creates a difficult position and potential conflict of interest for the person in that role given his/her livelihood is in the sole discretion of the mayor.  IMHO, this is a great example of what that conflict of interest looks like – selective application of the law to favor Team Bhalla at the expense of Hoboken residents.”

Over the past two decades Hoboken residents have fought tirelessly to establish some of the toughest campaign finance and pay-to-play laws in the state.  In 2004 it was through referendum that received a 9:1 vote in favor that pay to play laws were enacted.  This was followed by legislative action shortly after and then again in 2011, led by Mayor Dawn Zimmer that further strengthened these laws.  On December 15th, twenty members of the public called in to oppose any weakening of Hoboken’s campaign finance reform laws.

 

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